Before the review begins, I will make a note of something. If you check the front page of this very website, you will notice that we have a Pick of the Week option, in which a particular book is decided to be the title that we at MC plan to champion. Sometimes we’ve read the book already and love it; other times we assume we will. But either way, it is a very, very rare occasion that a book that gets Pick of the Week doesn’t come with a glowing endorsement from us.
So there’s that.
Written by Kieron Gillen
Illustrated by Jamie McKelvie
Legacy isn’t a dirty word… but it’s an irrelevant one. It’s not important what our parents did. It matters what WE do. Someone has to save the world. You’re someone. Do the math. The critically acclaimed team of Gillen/McKelvie/Wilson (with added Norton Sauce) decide to reinvent the teen superhero comic for the 21st century, uniting Wiccan, Hulkling and Hawkeye with Loki, Marvel Boy and Ms. America. No pressure. Young Avengers is as NOW! as the air in your lungs, and twice as vital. It’s the book that knows Hyperbole is the BEST! THING! EVER!
“Young Avengers” is one of those titles that everybody wants to work and yet it never seems to catch on. The idea is pretty brilliant, after all: a team of legacy heroes that are working to take the roles that have been made famous by superheroes that are now pushing 50 years worth of stories (and, you know, offers an alternative to “Teen Titans” but with Marvel characters). That’s what “Young Avengers” originally did when it introduced the characters of Wiccan, Hulkling, Iron Lad, Hawkeye, Stature and Patriot to us, and while those characters are all wonderful and lovable in every sense of the word and each warrant their own iteration of a fan following, the book just never stuck. For whatever reason, this idea that there will be a generation that can take over for the present in order to represent the future is just not an idea that many readers seemed to willing to take a gamble on and endorse.
So what we need is something new. And that’s exactly what we get.
The one thing that’s instantly noticeable is just how different this book is from its original predecessor. When “Young Avengers” initially began, it was a team forming to stand where an older generation no longer would, to fill a void and allow for a new era to take over. Yet, as the characters have grown older (and gone through far too much for kids that old to deal with easily), the new volume of “Young Avengers” starts them off in a very different place, both literally and emotionally. They’re scattered, they’re not all friends anymore and they’re very much unsure of what it is they want to be or do. This isn’t a group of kids who are excited to meet their heroes with stars in their eyes, nor are they a group of kids who eagerly want to take their place in the world besides legends. These are simply kids with powers, trying to make it work for them on an individual level, whatever that may mean. It’s a complete turnaround in attitude towards what came before, and to call it refreshing isn’t quite doing the shift in gear justice.
What’s more important than that, though, is how the book manages to effectively tap into the general uncertainty that comes with being a young adult today. The book is a new beginning, but it’s also a clear continuation of the stories of some of the characters who had a place in “Young Avengers” before, who now have to deal with an all-new kind of “villain.” These are characters who are being bombarded with apathy at the current climate of the world, where their place in the general superheroic machine of things is not even remotely clear and everyday represents the potential struggle of trying to carve out their own niche — an aspect that is perfectly mirrored and relatable for a modern generation. All of these characters, as far from each other as they now are, are all still connected by a powerful idea, but now its done in a completely new fashion. It’s actually a bit hard to read “Young Avengers” and the various scenes it shows of us and not see some aspect of yourself looking back at you in one place or another, no matter if you’re older now and looking back or if you’re still young and dealing with this general sense of malaise in your life.Continued below
What ends up making this even better is that the book is actually filled with a great sense of unbridled optimism along the seams. Youth culture outside of the pages of a comic book seems to be burdened by a sense of negativity as of late, as most young adults are treated with general condescension and a dark view to their future, but this book highlights some of the best parts about being young: making mistakes, losing yourself in music, being young and in love in a way that’s entirely visceral (and assuredly made all the more powerful by hormones). The superheroics of it all is given somewhat of a backseat in this issue in order to make a lot of room for the characters, and those characters end up shining in a combination of words and pictures that we just don’t see in other books focused on young heroes, for better or for worse. You probably can’t relate to being forced to fight other kids your age for survival, for example (see: ‘The Culling’ and “Avengers Arena” from DC and Marvel, respectively), but you’ll probably see something familiar in the scenes between Billy and Teddy. It’s rather hard not to.
And that, for lack of a better term, is what makes this book rather powerful.
The Young Avengers of the past were just that – they were Young Avengers. They essentially signed up for a job that involved saving the universe on a daily basis and they had to deal with that full on. This new book gives us a different and more modern take on the young superhero trope without leaning heavily on cynicism or over-done stereotypes of a pop-culture obsessed youth, something that other books can be excessively guilty of, and in that “Young Avengers” is a rather stalwart and impressive debut issue.
Additionally, it stands worth noting that yes, any comparison you here of this towards “Phonogram” is very much on the nose. However, it’s on the nose in the way that “Brazil” gets compared to “1984.” Yes, the connection is there to an extent, and there is a way in which this could be called “Phonogram in the Marvel Universe,” but to view it as only that and to not appreciate the greater differences is a fairly lazy. Rather, “Young Avengers” merely seems to tap into some of the universal truths of Gillen and McKelvie’s seminal work, in that music influences and can be found everywhere in art, that youth reigns supreme in its embrace of culture and passion, and that magic can be found everywhere and often in the most untraditional ways. Mind you, the book definitely does give some wink/nudge moments for “Phonogram” fans, but at no point does this feel like a simplistic clone of past work and ideas, and that’s an important element to consider.
Suffice it to say, “Young Avengers” is off to a great start. Kieron Gillen writes a rather sharp and poignant script that touches on a lot of potent aspects of being young without overdoing it in a way that seems like it’d belong on the CW. The characters all feel realistic rather than out of this world archetypes, and the change in ethos for the series is a welcome one/ Gillen gives us the full gamut of those who are excited to be heroes (Hawkeye, Marvel Boy), seemingly reluctant to be heroes (Miss America) and confused about their role as heroes (Hulkling, Wiccan) for a book that feels well balanced and dynamic, in a similar fashion to his work in “Generation Hope” or “Uncanny X-Men.” On top of that, Gillen’s penchant for wit and dry humor is very much on display here, especially in the short scene that Kid Loki has all to himself. Looking at the issue at a whole, it’s impressive as to what an extent we’re given such a different start in comparison to where “Young Avengers” originally began, and it’s one that has a clear focus and direction where it’s very easy to get lost in the world presented for however long it takes you to read the issue, at the very minimum.
There is one slight misstep in it all, though, albeit a minor one. It’s clear that Gillen and McKelvie both wanted to fit a lot into the space of this issue in order to give you a general sense of who these characters are before things get “really crazy,” as well as to show how they relate to one another and to us, and the book shines because of its characters. However, because so much emphasis is put on the relationships, the pace of the book becomes slightly impacted, similar in a way that a dancer might miss a step during a number. It’s not an off-putting aspect of the book, nor does it give off the impression that the intention of this book was style over substance, but it’s the sort of thing that you can find in any of your average “Brand New #1 Issue Introducing All New Directions And Lots Of Fun And Cool Things Buy It Now” comic. At the very least, it’s definitely the sort of thing that you know won’t be an issue beyond the first issue, now that most of the ideas are present.Continued below
Truthfully, the biggest thing that Gillen probably has working against him at this moment is what he plans to do with this version of Kid Loki due to the tight-rope walk that assumedly comes with working with the character, but that’s probably best left saved for some other essay later down the road when a few more issues are out and some more cards are revealed from up Gillen’s sleeve.
Bigger than any of this, however, is the fact that “Young Avengers” very much seems to be Jamie McKelvie’s coming out party at Marvel to an extent. McKelvie has done some great issues for Marvel in books like “Defenders,” “Generation Hope” and “Secret Avengers,” and he even gave the X-Men a brilliant and modernized slant in “X-Men Season One,” but “Young Avengers” is a beast all unto itself, something big and beautiful and fun. This book is Jamie McKelvie, and if his name wasn’t on your radar (somehow) before now, it assuredly will be forever more. For people who have watched McKelvie’s career grow from “Long Hot Summer,” “Suburban Glamour” and “Phonogram” to now, it’s truly a treat to see how much more defined his work has become over the years; each character has great definition, bringing them to life in a way that hasn’t been done before and showing the growth – literally and figuratively – that has occurred over the past few years. Having frequent collaborator Matt Wilson continue to color his work only makes it pop that much more, as Wilson has a vivid understanding of what McKelvie’s art needs to truly vibrate off the panels. It’s bright yet elegant, and the book is given this grand and exciting new definitive visual element that will hopefully define the characters for years to come in the same way that Cheung’s original art already has.
However, there is one aspect of McKelvie’s art that does at points becomes slightly distracting. McKelvie generally seems to have a tendency to frame his characters in very emotional states; that is to say, they’re either over-expressing a moment (Billy’s initial reaction to Teddy returning) or under-reacting (Billy’s foster parents near the end of the issue). To a certain extent it feels somewhat natural for younger characters to have a wide and intense range of emotion when it comes to self-expression, particularly at this point in their lives when involved in what is essentially a soap opera with super powers. It’s not that it’s too off-putting, but this generally seems to be a habit present in most of McKelvie’s work to date. It’s odd, however, to note that this is only really noticeable in his superhero work, as the hyper-emotive youth characters feel naturally more at home in a book like “Phonogram.”
Yet that aside, McKelvie’s art and it’s continued growth and evolution with each book is on full display here, and it’s amazing to see what his art has become over the years as it’s honestly never looked better. “Young Avengers” is truly a great new chapter for McKelvie’s career, let alone the character’s lives, and with Mike Norton playing the Gerhard to his Sim, this book is easily going to feature one of the most perfect matches between writer, artist, character and theme coming to a shop near you from Marvel.
So when I end by saying that you should buy “Young Avengers,” it’s probably safe to assume that there are a few truths that we can all count on. You can count on the book being full of heart, for example, and you can count on it featuring a diverse cast with unifying qualities that are instantly familiar and affable. You can also count on a creative team that is well-suited for the type of book they are presenting, and that they’re giving the book everything they have for the best possible result. You can also also count on the book clearly being set up to grow into something very big and very different than what came before, and what’s best of all is that you can definitely count on change being a very good thing. Perhaps even the best thing.
You should buy “Young Avengers.”
Final Verdict: 9.0 – Being a superhero is amazing. Everyone should try it.